By nature I am a "hurry up" person; I like to crack on with things and used to find people who are detail-oriented and cautious to be challenging to work with. Sarah, a former colleague, was a different personality type: skilled at writing processes, she was great at taking time to review things and to think carefully before taking action. She taught me the value of not letting my emotional response to a situation be my only response.
That lesson was important to me and I am grateful for it. Sarah had helped me to identify a weakness and turn it into a strength.
The ability to objectively assess yourself is something that will give you a powerful competitive advantage in your career. Most successful professionals are constantly evaluating, whether the subject is their career, their professional development or their progress in relation to life plans and objectives.
A SWOT analysis is a brilliantly effective tool for helping you to evaluate your skills or marketability so that you can take practical steps to improve both. This exercise can be as useful to a Board director facing a new challenge in their career as it can to a graduate seeking their first job.
In this blog I will explain very simply how to conduct a personal SWOT. I'm imagining you're a candidate who wants to conduct an honest review of your selling points and areas for improvement so you can create a progression plan that will ultimately make you a better candidate. But a SWOT analysis can work for anyone who wants to improve at anything.
What is a SWOT analysis?
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
A SWOT analysis is an objective and honest audit of the shape you're in as a business or professional. Businesses use the SWOT framework to help them assess how they stand in relation to their competitors, customers and market opportunities so that they can plan their strategy and decide where to focus their attention and energy. Strengths and weaknesses are about what the company can offer (or needs to improve on) and opportunities and threats are about factors external to a business that can impact on it.
SWOT is often used as part of a marketing planning exercise when launching products, planning a buyout or developing a new business.
The personal SWOT
In a personal SWOT, strengths and weaknesses relate to you: your skills and your areas for improvement. These are about what you can offer and what you need to improve upon.
And as with a business SWOT, opportunities and threats talk about the external environment – in this case your competitors (other candidates), the market you work in, any changes within those markets that may threaten your career or provide opportunities, any actions you can take to improve yourself. In brief, anything that might threaten or ignite your career progression.
How to conduct your personal SWOT
Firstly, you need to define the specific purpose of your SWOT. Are you looking for a promotion, a new role, or to achieve something very specific? You need to answer the SWOT questions in relation to this.
Now you need to make the time and space to ensure you get your SWOT right. Don't conduct a SWOT analysis while you're over-tired or stressed. Don't rush it. Don't treat it as a chore to get out of the way before you make dinner.
Set aside a time when you know you'll be in the best possible frame of mind to do it, and put it in the diary. It could be a Saturday morning when your partner or family are out or busy. Treat it as "pleasurable work" – an important task, but one to be approached positively and as something that can even be fun.
When you do your SWOT, be honest with yourself. Don't just do it once and think you're finished. Write it out and revisit it over a period of several days. Ask your friends, peers, colleagues or family to conduct a SWOT of you too, and share their results with you.
Consider these and add them into your SWOT if you agree. Discuss any points you disagree with – perhaps someone has a perspective you don't, and can help you recognise a weakness or strength that you didn't see. Feedback from other people is hugely valuable and will always be more objective than your own.
Some useful questions to help you work through your SWOT
Now you're ready, so ask yourself these questions and write down the answers. That, in a nutshell, is your SWOT. You can add related questions if you like. The idea is simply to ask as many questions as it takes to get a full, detailed and accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and of the opportunities and threats facing you.
- What am I good at?
- What are my natural talents?
- What are my unique selling points?
- What achievements am I most proud of?
- What projects have I completed?
People can be surprisingly ignorant or dismissive of their own strengths and assume that if they can do something, anyone can. Don't take your strengths for granted or dismiss something as not worth mentioning. For example, don't dismiss the value of being a good listener. That's worth an awful lot in any profession.
- What am I not good at?
- What don't I like doing?
- In what areas am I consistently told I need to improve?
- Do I lack any particular qualifications, or could I benefit from any?
- What are my bad habits?
People can often justify or contextualise their own weaknesses as a way of letting themselves off the hook. Take any feedback from other people in the spirit of the exercise, and really consider whether you could do better. If you've consistently been pulled aside for something, then maybe it's worth considering that you could improve in that area.
- What's happening in my department/business/market that could benefit me?
- What do I need to do to take advantage of that?
- What education is available to me?
- Who do I know that could help me?
- What skills are needed in my sector right now, and in the future?
As with threats, opportunities are things external to you that can impact on you, or that you can make an impact on. I'll discuss this more below, but one of the purposes of a SWOT is to identify whether you can turn any threats into opportunities.
- What factors could negatively impact on my goals?
- What is the level of competition for my role?
- Is my role being automated?
- How is my industry changing?
- What education does my competition have that I do not?
One of the best ways to nullify threats in general is to keep your skillset up to date.
A SWOT is only as good as your ability to turn into useful and practical actions. Now you've completed your SWOT, it's time to use it.
Your SWOT will help you to identify actions you can take to help you get to where you want to be.
You can compare your strengths and weaknesses to a job specification, which will help you identify where you need to improve and, conversely, the things about you that are great, so that you can highlight them in an interview.
In the longer term you can improve yourself through courses or by deliberately gaining more specific experience in your existing role. In the short term you can ace an interview by having a very good idea of how you measure up to a role.
As mentioned above, you can also use a SWOT to help turn threats into opportunities. Once you've identified the threats to you, you can also think about how some of those might be turned into opportunities with the right approach, training, or a career change.
You can also compare categories to suggest the most productive courses of action available to you. Typically, people compare strengths to opportunities to reveal where they are best placed to take positive action, and weaknesses to threats to reveal situations to avoid or areas where they need to work hard to improve.
Whether something is a threat or an opportunity is often down to your attitude and how proactive you are prepared to be to adapt or change.
In any case your SWOT should allow you to create some actions that will help you reach your goal – the objective you identified at the start of the exercise. So now you can create a to-do list or some milestones. Be sure to continually assess your progress against them.
For example, you might decide you need to attend a night school to gain a new skill, or take a spreadsheet course on Linda.com. You might need to learn a new language, or overcome a loathing of finance processes by spending some time with a sympathetic buddy from the accounts department. You might ask a senior member of a different team to mentor you so you can gain a wider view of the business, improve how you relate to senior staff and take a few tips about getting on in the business. You may simply need to fill your calendar with daily reminders to tidy up your desktop and ensure all your filing is completed before you go home.
Not only is it a great idea to reflect on how you are progressing against your SWOT milestones, but it can be energising and exciting to see yourself improving and I can (almost) guarantee that you will enjoy it!
The great power of a SWOT analysis is that it encourages self-improvement, so it keeps you at your best and in a growth mind-set.
Become a regular SWOT!
I recommend conducting a SWOT on a regular basis – either once a year or every time you need to prepare yourself for a major career challenge such as applying for a new job, going for a promotion or facing redundancy. Think about where you are and where you want to get to, and use SWOT to work out how far off you are from your destination.
When we're busy with the daily grind of work, it's easy to forget that our work isn't just what's on the screen in front of us – we are our own greatest project. It's not easy to build time and energy into your life to stop and work on yourself, so remember the famed Henry Ford quote: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."
Use a SWOT analysis to review yourself against your ambitions. It might even help you change your life!
The 1-1 team are great at helping to match candidates to roles that will bring out the best in them and meet their ambitions. Contact us today for your job search.